Writing a Secondary Application for Medical School

Once a medical school receives an applicant’s primary AMCAS application, they will decide whether to send a secondary application. Medical schools vary widely on their secondary application policy. Some schools send them to every applicant. However, other schools employ a preliminary screening process and only send them to certain applicants. No matter which process a medical school employs, you should be excited to receive a secondary application. It means that you are one step closer to becoming a medical student.


Most secondary application contain three to five questions. Medical schools ask applicants to complete the questions in essay form. In general, secondary applications ask questions to learn more about applicants’ motivation, tenacity, character, and experience. In addition, medical schools ask questions to learn more about an applicant’s career goals and interests. Most schools charge an additional fee to submit the secondary application. This fee ranges from $30 to $250. Costs can add up quickly since it is highly likely for a typical applicant to receive over a dozen applications. If you are having difficulty paying for your applications, the AAMC does offer a fee assistance program.



Medical schools look at secondary essays to see if an applicant will fit with the goals and culture of their program. For example, if a school prides itself on producing primary care physicians, they will be less enthusiastic about an applicant who is determined to be a sub-specialist. In addition, medical schools learn about a student’s communication skills through their secondary essays. Admissions officers look favorably on applicants who are able to express themselves clearly through written word. It is very important for physicians to be able to communicate effectively. The ability to write an effective secondary essay suggests to admissions officers that an applicant has the necessary communication skills to be a physician.



Your goal as a prospective medical student should be threefold. First, answer the question. Second, demonstrate effective communication. Finally, show that you are a good fit for the school.

Answer the Question

The directive to answer the question may seem simple. However, many students struggle with this portion of the secondary application. Many times, students write about a topic that is tangential to the original topic.  Some students answer a portion of the prompt and ignore the rest. You must answer the actual question in its entirety. Medical schools want to read a complete and direct answer to their questions.

Demonstrate Effective Communication

Effective communication starts with answering the question. In addition, you need to make your answer easily understood and concise. Medical school do not have time to read long-winded, rambling essays. However, they do want to hear from applicants who are able to state their ideas and provide effective supporting evidence in as few words as possible.

Show That You Fit In

Medical schools want their students to succeed in their programs. For this reason, they take great care to only admit people who are likely to do well.  Success in medical school depends on more than intelligence. Medical students need to be mature and self-motivated. It is a good idea to demonstrate that you have these skills in the secondary essay. In addition, medical schools differ in the types of  specialties that their graduates enter. Admissions officers look to admit applicants who have career goals that align with the school’s strengths.



Some schools will give a specific deadline for the secondary application. Others will use the overall application deadline of November or December. Regardless, it is essential for applicants to return their secondary essays in a timely manner. Preferably, an applicant will return their secondary application within two weeks of receipt. A quick turnaround for the secondaries shows that the applicant is serious about attending medical school. In addition, it shows that they have good time-management skills. The coursework in medical school is voluminous and fast moving. Applicants can show that they are able to handle large volumes of work by completing their secondaries promptly.


Medical school secondary essays are an important part of the application process. If you impress the admissions committee with your responses, you have a good chance of getting invited for an interview.

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